Fallon ceremony scheduled for noon
By Steve Ranson, Nevada News Group
Remember, teach and honor: These three words have defined the mission of Wreaths Across America (WAA) since the program began in 1990 to recognize the millions of veterans who are interred at cemeteries in the United States as well as around the world in such far-off lands such as Europe, the Philippines, Panama and North Africa.
The annual WAA remembrance program will begin Saturday at 9 a.m. at the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Fernley and at noon in Fallon. Since Fernley and Fallon share volunteers, organizers said the later start at the Churchill County Cemetery east of Fallon allows for travel between the two cemeteries.
The time of the Fernley ceremony and at other cemeteries, however, coincides with the placement of wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C,.
Jose “Gabe” Velazquez, superintendent of the NNVMC, said more than 8,100 individuals are buried on the grounds or interred at the columbarium. He said the sprawling cemetery has more than enough wreaths to honor all veterans at the cemetery, which first opened in 1990.
Although the ceremony begins at 9 a.m., Velazquez encourages visitors to arrive at the NNVMC between 8-8:45 a.m. because of the thousands of people who travel to Fernley and the logjams that are created on the roads and parking lots. He also encourages people to dress warmly as temperatures will be below freezing when the ceremony begins.
Valazquez and other individuals involved with the program said this time of year in mid-December recognizes the sacrifices veterans endured by spending every day of the year serving their country. WAA said this year’s theme is Serve and Succeed.
Valazquez and Lisa Devall Mckinzie, one of the organizes of the Fallon WAA program, said the aim of the WAA is to sponsor, honor and teach. Every year, both the Nevada Veterans Coalition, which oversees the Fernley WAA ceremony, and Mckinzie tell the volunteers the importance of sponsoring wreaths to cover every gravestone identifying a veteran.
Since the WAA program began in Fernley and later at the Fallon Cemetery, volunteers learn about honor. Mckinzie and other coordinators ask the volunteers to place a wreath, offer a hand salute and then thank the veterans for their service.
Mckinzie said volunteers are still needed Saturday to help place wreaths. With only a few days before the WAA at the Churchill County Cemetery, she invited volunteers to arrive at the cemetery between 11:30 a.m. and noon. Announcer Davey Munoz said Saturday is a special time of year to recognize the sacrifices of the veterans who spent every day of the year serving their country.
Other volunteers have tried to imagine what the veteran did in the military based on the dates or location of service. Others remember veterans for other reasons like Jonathan Burnett, who rings a bell every time the narrator announces a deceased veteran’s name during the unaccompanied military funerals. One such veteran is Francis “Frank” Minervini, a World War II veteran who served during World War II. Minervini died in 2016 at the age of 103..
Minervini enlisted in the Navy in 1929 when he was 17 years old. Twelve years later, Minervini was 29 years old when Japanese planes bombed the military installations on Oahu. Later in the war, Minervini was on a torpedoed ship and spent two days floating in the Pacific Ocean with a shattered knee before he was rescued.
Next to Minervini on the columbarium wall is 2nd Lt. Kenneth L. Cox, who served in the Army. He died in 2015.
Velasquez said the NVC will also recognize major fundraisers for their contributions to the area’s WAA program including Tony Martinez of the Nevadans 4 Vets that organizes a golf tournament and the Fern 45, which donates thousands of dollars annually to local veteran causes. The Fern 45 donated $10,000 to the NVC in November.
WAA began nationally in 2007 when the Worcester family in Harrington, Maine, and veterans organizations, nonmilitary groups and individuals formed the nonprofit organizations. Several major milestones have occurred during the past 25 years. In 2014, a goal to place a wreath on every grave marker was met with the placement of 226,525 wreaths. Five years ago, a wreath ceremony honored 10,000 veterans at the Normandy American Cemetery in France.
According to the organization, “In 2022, Wreaths Across America and its national network of volunteers placed more than 2.7 million sponsored veterans’ wreaths on headstones of our nation’s service members at 3,702 participating locations. This was accomplished with the support of more than 5,000 sponsorship groups, corporation contributions and in-kind donations from the transportation industry across the country.”